Friday, October 20, 2006

Tigers in India Face Extinction Unless Illicit Skin Trade by Criminal Gangs Between Subcontinent and Tibet Stopped

Keep in mind that Tigers in India make up half of the world's surviving population.

And all for selfish, vain reasons.


Skin trade could wipe out India's tigers

• Pelts sold for £10,000 each on Himalayan plateau
• Campaigners say illegal trade must be stopped

Randeep Ramesh in New Delhi
Thursday September 28, 2006
The Guardian

Tigers in India, which contains half of the world's surviving population, face extinction unless an illicit skin trade run by criminal gangs between the subcontinent and Tibet is brought under control, campaigners said yesterday.

In a report the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Wildlife Protection Society of India said the Himalayan plateau had become a massive bazaar for Indian tiger skins. Pelts are sold for £10,000 each and it has become fashionable for them to be used in luxury clothes and accessories.

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Running skins across the roof of the world are organised criminal syndicates, which buy from poachers in India and send the contraband through Nepal into Tibetan markets where wealthy Chinese line up to buy feline hides and coats.

India's big cat population has been whittled away by a combination of habitat destruction, loss of prey and conflicts with humans. But this trend is being accelerated by the tiger skin trade. The result, say conservationists, has been that tigers are being wiped out in India.

Just before independence in 1947 India's wild tiger population was 40,000. It has dropped to 1,500."We have to urgently curb the slaughter otherwise we are certainly heading for a situation where India will have no tigers," said Belinda Wright of WPSI. "This is an illegal trade much like the criminal arms trade or drugs trade. It has to be controlled and stopped by specialised enforcement units."

The scale of the problem is daunting. Despite the international ban on the tiger trade and the fact that the trade is illegal under Chinese law, undercover investigators went to Tibet and filmed shops in Lhasa which displayed tiger skins for sale. They also photographed festivals where herdsmen wore Tiger skin ceremonial robes, known as chubas. Ground tiger bones, whiskers and penises are also used in traditional Chinese medicines.

Nitin Desai, a conservationist at WPSI who spent a month in China, said the team found skins in stores "sold as trophies and wall hangings for rich Chinese business people.

"We found them sold on the streets and at one fair even saw them paraded right next to police officials who are supposed to be seizing these illegal goods. One tent had been made of 108 tiger skins."

The trade has shifted to other communities. "The other minorities have no compunction about selling the skins and the Chinese are still buying."

Next week sees a meeting of the international agency that oversees the trade in endangered species.

The US has tabled a motion that would seek trade sanctions next year against India and China if they fail to combat the illegal trade. However, experts say the only way to stop "skin smugglers" is to cut off the supply of tigers from India.

It is estimated that Indian poachers kill more than 200 tigers a year, and as populations fall the animals are chased deeper into the reserves. In many so-called sanctuaries tigers have vanished.

Sariska in Rajasthan, on India's tourist trail, has been completely emptied of the big cats. India set up a taskforce last year but it has only just set up a new agency to deal with dwindling numbers.

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